MADAGASCAR - Q&A with JADA PINKETT SMITH, BEN STILLER, DAVID SCHWIMMER, CHRIS ROCK, producer JEFFREY KATZENBERG and director TOM McGRATH
Movie Interview by Ania Kalinowska
Jeffrey, according to the LA Times, this is in fact your debut as an animation actor! Apparently you have two roles, that of a policeman and a role that was physically modelled on you although ironically the character doesn't speak a word in the film...
JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Yes, I'm the extremely inarticulate penguin, Rico, who never says a word but does do some grunting and I prepare sushi at the end...
Tom, congratulations not only on directing the movie, but also on stealing every scene that Skipper [the penguin] is in. Why did you play the part - were you desperate to do this or couldn't you get anyone for the money?
TOM McGRATH: I'm very inexpensive and it was fun for me – the penguins had a small role and it kept growing. They worked well with the story; they had a little sub-plot that mirrored what the New Yorkers were going through. It was a lot of fun.
Jada, you're the only lady in an all-boys team. There's a lot of skin to get under in your character – the largest one in the film. How do you go about playing a four-legged friend?
JADA PINKETT SMITH: We're chosen to play these characters because of certain characteristics that we have that match those of the character that we're playing. Gloria is all about attitude, which I'm all for, so it wasn't difficult.
Ben, what about your lion character?
BEN STILLER: He was a New Yorker which was what I responded to most. He was also an actor who loves the adulation of the crowd, he was very much about performing: that was how I approached Alex.
David, how did you find the very different work of doing an animation project?
DAVID SCHWIMMER: It wasn't without its challenges, because none of us were in the same room at the same time. You have to really use your imagination much more, like you would as a kid. I'd try to give the director as much to choose from as possible. It was also really freeing not having to worry about make up and not how you look.
Chris, this is a chance for you to reach an entirely new audience – I'd imagine that most kids don't watch your concept DVDs...
CHRIS ROCK: You'd be amazed at the amount of kids that come up to me, whispering disgusting things in my ear!
Tom, tell us more about the casting of Sacha Baron Cohen?
TOM McGRATH: The original character had 3 lines in the film. Sacha came in and while playing around with accents, based this character off an odd uncle of his (at least that's what he told us!). So the 3 lines turned into about 20 minutes, which was so funny...so we changed the roles. This guy just had to be king of these lemurs. He was so inventive and really brought a lot to the film.
David, would people who know you be surprised to find you cast as a hypochondriac?
DAVID SCHWIMMER: I don't know! I actually feel that who I am in real life is pretty much the opposite of this character, so it's fun to play into this idea of who Melman is.
Jada, are your kids amused at the fact that mom is a hippo?
JADA PINKETT SMITH: You know, after seeing dad as a fish...anything's possible!
Have any of the actors done any acting exercises to help them act like an animal?
DAVID SCHWIMMER: When I studied, we did have a whole semester of playing animals – you had to go to the zoo and study an animal intensely for like 3 weeks. The first animal I chose was a penguin, because they always made me laugh. I didn't get a chance to audition for that role in MADAGASCAR though!
Tom, tell us more about fusing the actors and their characters?
TOM McGRATH: What's great about developing these characters is that we tape the actors while they're doing their lines. So we get a lot of facial expressions that the animators can reference, and put them into the characters.
Were any of you surprised when you saw this footage of yourselves doing all these expressions and gestures?
BEN STILLER: Yeah, the microphone didn't pick up any gestures [which he does a lot of], and then I noticed in the movie that they did put in a lot of hand gestures, probably to try and help my voice. But I hate seeing footage of myself doing this stuff, because while you're doing it, you really want to get outside of thinking about what you look like. It looks really silly – especially scenes that are difficult to do – and you want to let go of that; it's almost like seeing footage of yourself naked. It feels weird.
DAVID SCHWIMMER: I had the same reaction; its very vulnerable, because you're really going all-out and trying all sorts of stuff to get the sound effects, knowing what you're doing is not going to be seen, and then to watch playbacks, it's like Ben said, almost like seeing yourself naked in a certain position...
Chris and Ben, give us the low-down on the special relationship your characters Marty and Alex share on screen? And also I believe that you're going to be doing a film together in real life...tell us more about your special relationship?
CHRIS ROCK: We are?
BEN STILLER: That must have been a joke that we made which got out on the Internet and then of course it became 'real'...
CHRIS ROCK: We play golf together a lot...but I've known him a while...
BEN STILLER: Yeah, we go back like 15 years, we're the same age, we're both from New York, both came up at the same time. We don't hang out together (we live in different cities) but we know each other and when we do bump into each other we always have fun...
CHRIS ROCK: We have a decent relationship!
BEN STILLER: What was also really helpful and contributed to the film was the fact that we weren't ever in the same place, so it was helpful to always have a reference point in your head of who you're talking to.
For all four actors: if you could be an animal, what would it be?
JADA PINKETT SMITH: A black panther.
BEN STILLER: I have no idea! I like whales, maybe like a blue whale, would be interesting, go deep...
DAVID SCHWIMMER: It might be interesting to be something that flies, like an eagle or hawk.
CHRIS ROCK: A cocker spaniel that bites J-Lo in the ass!